Bill to Provide Equal Access to Mental Healthcare for Foster Youth Heads to the Governor’s Desk With Virtually Unanimous Support

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Bill to Provide Equal Access to Mental Healthcare for Foster Youth Heads to the Governor’s Desk With Virtually Unanimous Support

On Monday, Assembly Bill 1299 (Ridley-Scott), “Medi-Cal Specialty Mental Health Services for Foster Youth,” passed the California State Assembly and is now on its way to the Governor’s Desk. This marks a turning point in a nearly 20 year effort to ensure all foster youth have equal access to mental healthcare.

Foster youth are three to six times more likely than non-foster youth to experience emotional, behavioral and developmental challenges. Compounding these challenges, foster youth are moved around a lot: 1 in 5 or about 13,000 California foster youth are placed out of the county they lived in when they entered care.

Foster youth placed “out-of-county” are more than six times less likely to receive any mental health services compared to children who stay in county. The absence of, or delayed access to, mental health services not only leads to poor lifelong outcomes for vulnerable young people, it violates youths’ federal entitlement to appropriate mental healthcare .

AB 1299 eliminates a key barrier to mental healthcare for the thousands of foster youth who are placed “out-of-county.” Because California’s public mental health system is county-based, a child who resides out-of-county is also “out of network,” with all of the service delivery challenges that entails. In a nutshell, the bill shifts default responsibility for providing or arranging for specialty mental health services under Medi-Cal from the county where a foster youth entered care to the county where the child resides. The bill also ensures that Medi-Cal funding will follow the child so that any net change in costs to each county will be reimbursed through the regular Realignment process. Finally, the bill allows for exceptions to the transfer of responsibility in order to assure continuity of care or improve child welfare outcomes.

For too long “out-of-county” has meant “out-of-luck” for foster youth in need of support. AB 1299 would ensure that youth placed across county lines are able to access mental health services in a timely manner responsive to their individual needs and strengths, and consistent with the law.

This is an issue that Young Minds Advocacy has been working to resolve for years. The end is in sight–everyone at the table is in agreement and thousands of youth stand to benefit when this bill becomes law–but we need YOUR help for the final push.

Join Young Minds Advocacy in asking Governor Brown to sign this vitally important legislation and be a part of an effort that ensures all foster youth have equal access to mental healthcare. You can find a sample support letter here.

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About the Author:

Annabelle Gardner
Annabelle Gardner is the director of communications at Young Minds and editor in chief of our blog, Hear Me Out. She believes storytelling is a powerful tool for social change.